What is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the globe today? In Fear of Breakdown, Noëlle McAfee contends that politics needs something that only psychoanalysis has been able to offer: an understanding of how to work through anxieties, ambiguity, fragility, and loss.
One of the most original thinkers of the twentieth century, Julia Kristeva has been driving forward the fields of literary and cultural studies since the 1960s. This volume is an accessible, introductory guide to the main themes of Kristeva's work, including her ideas on: *semiotics and symbolism *abjection *melancholia *feminism *revolt. McAfee provides clear explanations of the more difficult aspects of Kristeva's theories, helpfully placing her ideas in the relevant theoretical context, be it literary theory, psychoanalysis, linguistics, gender studies (...) or philosophy, and demonstrates the impact of her critical interventions in these areas. Julia Kristeva is the essential guide for readers who are approaching the work of this challenging thinker for the first time, and provides the ideal opportunity for those with more knowledge to re-familiarise themselves with Kristeva's key terms. (shrink)
I address the question of whether certain poststructuralist theories of subjectivity can contribute to Habermas's project of deliberative democracy--whether effective political agency requires that we be the kinds of individuals supposed by the modern liberal tradition or whether effective citizenship is possible under a poststructuralist theory of the subject as an "open system." I find that poststructuralist subjectivities can be effective political agents. ;In part one, I introduce two sometimes warring theories of subjectivity. One is the theory of Jurgen Habermas. (...) I argue that Habermas's theory leads to a theory of subjectivity being transparent to itself, independently spontaneous, fixed, and individualistic. The other is the theory of Julia Kristeva, which holds that the subject is a tenuous effect of its relations with the others in its midst and its own internal otherness. In part two I show how their theories of subjectivity inform their views of citizenship and politics. As I argue, each orientation has its problems. Habermas mistakenly argues that the subject can act discretely and autonomously; conversely, Kristeva's view seems to foreclose the possibility of agency, since it considers the subject as fragmented, split, and at odds with itself. Where Habermas is overly optimistic about the possibility for individuals to know their own interests and act autonomously, Kristeva's view could be construed negatively: If subjectivity is dynamic and "in process," could anyone act as an agent in the public sphere? ;In part three I answer this question affirmatively by developing an alternative model of subjectivity and citizenship, namely that of subjectivities indebted to others and deeply interrelated, from the deepest ontological level up to the level of political community. Building on this, I develop a theory of political knowledge, choice and action that fits into current work in deliberative democracy. I conclude that the more we recognize our indebtedness and relationship with the others in our midst, the more likely we are to have effective political agency, practice, and communities. (shrink)
Political philosopher NoelleMcAfee proposes a powerful new political theory for our post-9/11 world, in which an old pathology-the repetition compulsion-has manifested itself in a seemingly endless war on terror. McAfee argues that the quintessentially human desire to participate in a world with others is the key to understanding the public sphere and to creating a more democratic society, a world that all members can have a hand in shaping. But when some are effectively denied this participation, (...) whether through trauma or terror, instead of democratic politics, there arises a political unconscious, an effect of desires unarticulated, failures to sublimate, voices kept silent, and repression reenacted. Not only is this condition undemocratic and unjust, it may lead to further trauma. Unless its troubles are worked through, a political community risks continual repetition and even self-destruction. McAfee deftly weaves together her experience as an observer of democratic life with an array of intellectual schemas, from poststructural psychoanalysis to Rawlsian and Habermasian democratic theories, as well as semiotics, civic republicanism, and American pragmatism. She begins with an analysis of the traumatic effects of silencing members of a political community. Then she explores the potential of deliberative dialogue and other "talking cures" and public testimonies, such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to help societies work through, rather than continually act out, their conflicts. _Democracy and the Political Unconscious_ is rich in theoretical insights, but it is also grounded in the practical problems of those who are trying to process the traumas of oppression, terror, and brutality and create more decent and democratic societies. Drawing on a breathtaking range of theoretical frameworks and empirical observations, _Democracy and the Political Unconscious_ charts a course for democratic transformation in a world sorely lacking in democratic practice. (shrink)
This paper takes up the questions of how the refugee crisis exhibits the fault lines in what might otherwise seem to be a robust human rights regime and what kinds of ways of seeing and thinking might better attune us to solving these problems. There is surprising agreement internationally on the content of human rights, although there is a huge gulf between international agreements on human rights and the protection of those most vital. The subtitle of the paper, “another stab (...) at universal human rights,” has a double entendre: in the midst of a crisis that is stabbing international agreements on human rights to its core, I will take a stab at using the crisis situation to point a way forward toward a cosmopolitan social imaginary that uses human imagination, not just as an ability to represent in one’s mind what one has seen elsewhere, but also as an ability to imagine something radically new. This social imaginary points to the necessity of according everyone, refugees included, as having a right to politics and thus a hand in shaping their own world, including their new, host communities. (shrink)
This article looks at how various political cultures and imaginaries occlude the public’s deeply democratic political role, especially the currently reigning anti-political culture of neo-liberalism. Even in an era when millions of people the world over take to the streets in protest, dominant political imaginaries position most of the world’s people as largely powerless. What is needed is a radical political imaginary along the lines that Cornelius Castoriadis suggests. This imaginary foregrounds the ways in which all social and political formations (...) are already constituted by human beings’ ability to create new formations in the absence of foundations. But ignorant of this power, people are trapped in imaginaries where it seems that power resides elsewhere, only in halls of state or corporate boardrooms. This article offers an account that identifies where power originates and how it can be reclaimed through a more radical democratic political imaginary. The article proceeds as follows: the first two sec... (shrink)
What is at stake when political revolt depends upon radical inner experience? Is the only route to cultural and political change, as Kristeva seems to argue, through personal introspection and revolt? If we want more from life than the freedom to channel surf, as she says, need the direction of inquiry be primarily inward? Need there be an either/or of psychical versus public life? Is the only answer to social and political dead ends really found by turning inward? Is the (...) micropolitics of the couch the path to freedom? “Today,” Kristeva writes, “psychical life knows that it will only be saved if it gives itself the time and space of revolt: to break off, remember, re-form. From prayer to dialogue, through art and analysis, the crucial event is always the great infinitesimal emancipation: to be endlessly recommenced.” In this essay I ask whether we might move Kristeva’s “New Forms of Revolt” from the couch to the polis with the help of one of her major interlocutors, Hannah Arendt, who reminds us that thinking is always a plural affair. I develop a link between Arendt’s thinking and Kristeva’s revolt to show how thinking-as-revolt puts subjects in relation to each other and to the political. Such a political culture of revolt can engage in the work needed to move beyond adolescent fixations in melancholic times. And with it we might in fact create more meaning for our lives. (shrink)
This article considers the speech given by then Senator Barack Obama on race in America, on the collective trauma he is pointing to and the need for working through and what that means in psychoanalytic and pragmatic terms. Though Obama may have only tangentially been alluding to a Freudian notion of working through and probably was not thinking of John Dewey's work, the insights of that speech can be deepened by drawing on both psychoanalytic theory and American pragmatism's attention to (...) transactions, habits, and environing conditions. (shrink)
This paper argues that the public can do more than legitimate government; it can provide public knowledge for sound public policy. Critics of democracy worry that the public has too little objectivity and impartiality to know what is best. These critics have a point: taken one by one, people have little knowledge of the whole. For this reason, citizens need to escape the cloisters of kith and kin and enter a world of unlike others. They need to be open to (...) other perspectives and concerns. They need to deliberate with others in public. In other words, an inchoate plurality of people needs to become public in order to develop a more comprehensive picture of the whole and to define where the shoe pinches. Democracy requires that the multitude deliberate publicly in order to create public knowledge by which sound public policy can be formed. Key Words: deliberation democracy John Dewey Jürgen Habermas legitimacy particularity perspectives rational deliberative proceduralism. (shrink)
The dynamical hypothesis is strong in that, for it to be true, every cognitive phenomenon must be best modeled by a dynamical system. Depending on how it is interpreted, however, the hypothesis may be seen as probably false or even unfalsifiable. Strengthening the hypothesis to require unification, or at least coherence, across models in different cognitive domains alleviates this problem.
Distinguishing explicit from implicit knowledge on the basis of the active representation of certain propositional attitudes fails to provide an explanation for dissociations in learning performance under implicit and explicit conditions. This suggests an account of implicit and explicit knowledge grounded in the presence of multiple learning mechanisms, and multiple brain systems more generally. A rough outline of a connectionist account of this kind is provided.
In Democracy and the Political Unconscious, Noëlle McAfee analyzes social pathologies that have arisen in the United States since September 11, 2001. In particular, she argues that we have been suffering society-wide repetition compulsions and time collapses, compelling us to experience the trauma repeatedly, and we have been acting out in ways that continue the cycle of suffering. She also presents a prescription for how we might work through these issues more democratically and fruitfully using deliberative talking cures. (...) class='Hi'>McAfee's application of the psychoanalytic model to society is fascinating, and she offers concrete and practical suggestions for how to better resolve social trauma.In the first four chapters .. (shrink)
A child of the era of decolonization, Claire Denis grew up in various regions of France’s subSaharan colonial lands, and was brought back to the ‘métropole’ as a teenager in the 1960s.She has thus had a double practice of foreignness, abroad, and in her ‘own’ country, whichshe did not know and where, in similar yet fundamentally different ways than in Africa, shefelt like an outsider again. As the daughter of a colonial administrator – a childhoodbeautifully evoked in her first (...) feature, Chocolat – she had stood as a highly visibleembodiment of the Western presence on colonial soil. On her return to France, she wouldlive through the more banal experience of becoming an invisible intruder, an exile at‘home’– a theme explored in her subsequent works. From the start, Denisthus drew on her personal knowledge of feeling rootless to explore issues that haveremained at the heart of her filmmaking: the deeply perplexing questions of identity andalienation, assimilation and rejection, desire and fear inseparable from the post-colonialmalaise that affects France with particular acuteness. (shrink)
Claire Katz & Lara Trout, Emmanuel Levinas. Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers ; Thomas Bedorf, Andreas Cremonini, Verfehlte Begegnung. Levinas und Sartre als philosophische Zeitgenossen ; Samuel Moyn, Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas between Revelation and Ethics ; Pascal Delhom & Alfred Hirsch, Im Angesicht der Anderen. Levinas’ Philosophie des Politischen ; Sharon Todd, Learning from the other: Levinas, psychoanalysis and ethical possibilities in education ; Michel Henry, Le bonheur de Spinoza, suivi de: Etude sur le spinozisme de (...) Michel Henry, par Jean-Michel Longneaux ; Jean-François Lavigne, Husserl et la naissance de la phénoménologie. Des Recherches logiques aux Ideen: la genèse de l’idéalisme transcendantal phénoménologique ; Denis Seron, Objet et signification ; Dan Zahavi, Sara Heinämaa and Hans Ruin, Metaphysics, Facticity, Interpretation. Phenomenology in The Nordic Countries ; Dimitri Ginev, Entre anthropologie et herméneutique ; Magdalena Mărculescu-Cojocea, Critica metafizicii la Kant şi Heidegger. Problema subiectivităţii: raţiunea între autonomie şi deconstrucţie. (shrink)
On the young bride’s shoulder is a mauve bite mark: the outline of a mouth, a double arch,teeth marks, open jaws, lips raised up over hard enamel. Not the barely open lips of a kisson the skin; open, rather, as for a kiss on the mouth, but this time penetrating the skin: abristling kiss with the teeth bared, extreme – at the limit of the kiss, or beyond. A cruelkiss: a kiss of flesh . A young couple kisses in a (...) plane: the beginning ofthe film. Later we will see this icon, not knowing when it was imprinted, like a tattoo or abranding with the red hot iron of some ancient justice.What is a kiss? This is the question posed by Claire Denis’s film. Or rather: what isfucking?2It has long been accepted and repeated that kissing is a kind of devouring. Itbelongs to a core of imagery and metaphor that includes fairy tales , the fascination with cannibalism, the symbolism of Christian communion andthat of the lacerations of Dionysos, Osiris or Acteon, together with ghouls, striges andvampires, werewolves, incubi and succubi. This entire carnivorous breed is concealedwithin the film. It is recalled in its entirety, evoked by the gesture of Coré, the sick woman, standing on a bank, filmed from a low angle raising her coat aboveher shoulders to bring to mind for a moment the silhouette of Murnau’s Nosferatu.The vampire’s true formula is only revealed when one says ‘the kiss of the vampire’.That is what is at stake here, allowing for the fact that we are no longer in the era ofvampire stories: the kiss as vampire.It is not a question of any particular kiss, but rather that the kiss, in itself, opens on to the bite, and the taste of blood. And consequently it is a question of another wellknown coupling, that of Eros and Thanatos: not in a dialectic of opposites, but in a mutualexcitation and exasperation, each asking the other to go further, to go all the way to theend, to get completely lost. (shrink)
Throughout the twentieth century a significant tradition in French thought promoted a highly dramatized reading of the Hegelian struggle for recognition. In this tradition a violent struggle was regarded as an indispensable means to the realization of both individual and social ideals. The following article considers Claire Denis's film I Can't Sleep as an oblique challenge to this tradition. I Can't Sleep performs a careful dedramatization of an extremely violent story and thereby points to the possibility of an alternative (...) form of co-existence outside a logic of conflict. (shrink)